In a few days, I’ll be attending Jay-Z’s concert series celebrating the opening of the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. While the prospect of seeing my hero in the city that birthed he and other legendary hip-hop artists is exciting, it’s also bittersweet. The music that brought Shawn Carter his respect and success is fading from the spotlight. While rap remains prevalent in all aspects of contemporary culture, it appears that House music has become the genre of choice for America’s youth. Though artists like Jay-Z can try as they might to keep hip-hop on life support, it appears rap is going the way of rock as the cool choice for consumers. I’d like to explore the rise of house, the decline of hip-hop and if anything can be done to salvage the music that was the soundtrack of my life until now.
I attended the University of Miami, and I witnessed the explosion of House firsthand. It seemed that within minutes of freshmen orientation everyone around me traded in their hoodies for neon shades, their sour diesel for molly and their cash for tickets to the ULTRA Music Festival. Middle class White youth constantly crave one thing: the ability to stand out. With its infectious beats and European flair, House allowed America’s most impressionable set to experiment with new music and new drugs. Electronic music wasn’t saddled with political messages or stigmatized with violence, so it was easily relatable and free from censorship. As far as the drugs, most people I know who fell in love with electronica did so while rolling. The feelings associated with the molly became inseparable from beats. Just check your Facebook. Every day I see someone posting a YouTube of the newest Avicii remix or a mupload from a festival. House is what’s in, and for good reason. Electronic music has broken into the mainstream, with Dubstep in Microsoft commercials and Skrillex winning multiple Grammys. Perhaps the most resounding proof that house is overtaking hip-hop is the appearance of some of raps’ lamer acts (Flo-Rida, Pitbull) jumping ship, attempting to appear on as many house remixes as possible.
So now that we’ve indentified the competition, how has hip-hop attempted to adapt?
It hasn’t. Hip-hop has become incredibly redundant. Once dubbed the “Black CNN” by Chuck D, rap is now little more than a vehicle for materialism. Gone are the stories of struggle and the intricate word play. A majority of rap today is focused around Louis Vuitton, sipping champagne, and empty threats. While consumption and gun talk have always been a part of hip-hop culture, it seems to now exclusively control it. The first album my mom ever bought me (and subsequently made me throw out) was Notorious BIG’s Life After Death. Though Biggie made songs like “Hypnotize” and “Big Poppa”, he also put out “Sky’s the Limit” and “Things Done Changed”. All the while, his lyrics were dense with metaphors and clever punch lines. I can hardly say the same for the stars of today. Rappers like Drake, Wiz Khalifa and Rick Ross rarely stray from the aforementioned subject matter and fail to challenge their listeners. One can attribute hip-hop’s redundancy and simplicity to the state of music in general. The digital revolution has created a singles-based sales system, so many artists are hesitant to put out thought-provoking tracks when their bottom line depends on the sale of one hit as oppose to an entire nuanced album. However, the current state of affairs is nothing new, and I simply don’t buy the excuse. There can only be so long before people grow tired of the “money, cash, hoes” mantra. The charts present a poor prognosis. This week in 2002 featured hip-hop artists in 6 of the top 10 singles on Billboard. Presently, there is only one rapper in the running, and it’s f*cking Flo Rida.
So What Now?
I don’t know. I’m sure most successful rappers don’t care. Lil’ Wayne has made his money; he can go sip sizzurp and skateboard into the sunset. But I do have some suggestions to save rap from irrelevancy. First, respect your audience. Most of us out there aren’t stacking paper and smashing bitches 24-7. We’re real people with fears, insecurities, money problems, dreams, and aspirations. Maybe if the music was ever remotely relatable, people would listen again. There are some rappers being themselves out there, and they are the ones I’ve been f*cking with. I’m talking about guys like Tyler, the Creator, Hopsin, and Action Bronson. Second, step your game up. Instead of coming up with cool ad-libs ( Rick Ross’ “Ungh!” or 2 Chainz’ “2 Chaiiiinz”) or packing your single with 15 features, come up with some new flows. I am so tired of hearing the semicolon rap, you know, “I get a lotta bread; croutons!” It does not impress anyone. Let’s emphasize substance over style. Finally, my last word of advice to struggling rappers: hook up with Justin Bieber, everything that funny haired bastard touches turns to gold.
Any other ideas on how to change hip-hop? Why house has taken over? Simply don’t give a damn? Leave your thoughts in the comments section!
Krum is a NYC based comedian you can follow him on Twitter @KrumLifeDotCom